Everyone fights their battles differently. For older Black activists, the methodology when being faced with opposition is underscored by the peaceable ideologies of icons like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
President Donald Trump attended the opening of Mississippi’s Civil Rights Museum on Saturday to the dismay of civil rights groups and leaders. Trump was met with protests as he approached the museum. But Georgia U.S. Representative John Lewis silently opposed the president’s attendance by refusing to take part in the opening. Fellow U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and members of the NAACP all followed suit.
Protest by way of absence or non-participation has been a trademark of the Trump era. It was effective when (most) music artists refused to entertain the few people who had time to attend Trump’s sad presidential inauguration. The mere threat of absence even incited one of the 71-year-old’s signature sophomoric tweets when Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry expressed uncertainty as to whether he’d be attending the White House with his team for a championship dinner.
It’s been a winning strategy.
But the Civil Rights Museum, even its newness, is our space. Someone on the museum’s leadership team made an abhorrently tasteless mistake by even allowing Trump and his lackey for all things African-American Ben Carson on the premises. But regardless of who pays a visit, the museum is one of the few places devoted to us, specifically, figures such as Lewis, who marched alongside Dr. King in landmark civil rights protests.
Which makes the president’s capacity to deter Lewis him from a place dedicated to a core component of his existence, all the more detestable.
When you reach a certain age, there are certain imbecilic engagements you just don’t have time for. I get it. And such an undesirable interaction would have been inevitable if Trump and Lewis were to occupy the same space. In his 77 years of being, the man who was quoted saying: “the way of peace is a better way,” may have simply been without the energy such a run-in would require. Especially after the two engaged in a feud in January after Lewis spoke facts when he said 45 wasn’t a “legitimate president.” But this would make Lewis’ presence in this Black space all the more powerful.
Maybe it’s my 20-something capacity for all things petty that motivated my disappointment with Lewis’ decision. But Trump, of all contemptuous and dimwitted politicians, should never have the sway to keep us out of the few places in which we’re supposed to feel safe. We let this opportunity pass us by. But next time Trump has the audacity to pop up in one of our spaces, it is the duty of Black leaders to make him feel as awkward and uncomfortable as humanly possible.